18 Jul Senate approves bill to expand stem cell funding
Washington, D.C. – The United States Senate, by a vote of 63-37, has enacted a bill that would overturn President Bush’s ban on new federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, setting the stage for a promised presidential veto.
The measure fell short of the 67 votes needed to override a veto, which would be the first veto of the Bush presidency.
The bill, known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, was enacted without the possibility of amendment, which means it will go directly to the President. As recently as the morning of the vote, President Bush criticized the bill and signaled his intention to veto it.
Senators voted to remove the current restrictions on federal funding on embryonic stem cell research, which were announced by Bush in August of 2001. The bill, also known as House Resolution 810, would permit the National Institutes of Health to fund embryonic stem cell research, regardless of where the stem cells are derived.
The measure is controversial because in the process of deriving these types of stem cells, embryos are destroyed, which opponents argue is the taking of innocent life.
Researchers value embryonic stem cells because they have the ability to develop into virtually any cell in the human body.
Throughout the two-day Senate debate, advocates of a less restrictive policy chided Bush for threatening to use his first veto to undermine a measure that could move the scientific community closer to cures for life-threatening and debilitating diseases.
Senator Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said Bush’s decision would indicate whether he truly is a “Compassionate Conservative,” a label he attached to himself when he first ran for president.
“Vetoing life-saving research would say to millions of Americans suffering form Parkinson’s, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and spinal cord injuries that their hopes are diminished so long as President Bush is in the White House,” Durbin said.
Senators who opposed the bill on moral grounds cited the growing promise of human adult stem cells.
They also said that despite opinion polls showing the majority of Americans support stem cell research, most object to using federal tax dollars for research techniques that result in the destruction of human embryos.
“What we’re doing here is treating man as raw material,” charged Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kansas.
As expected, Wisconsin Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold voted for H.R. 810. The two Democrats were co-sponsors of the Senate version.
Kohl, noting that University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists were the first to isolate human embryonic stem cells, said UW researchers have stated unequivocally that they need H.R. 810 to continue their work. “Without H.R. 810, they fear America will fall behind the rest of the world in medical and biotechnical research,” Kohl stated.
H.R. 810 would limit human embryonic stem cell research to stem cells derived from human embryos donated from in-vitro fertilization clinics for the purpose of fertility treatment. The bill stipulates that the embryos used would never be implanted in a woman and would otherwise be discarded, and that individuals seeking treatment donate surplus embryos with written informed consent and receive no financial or other inducements.
In related action, the Senate approved measures to encourage alternative pluripotent stem cell therapies and to prohibit the practice of fetal farming.
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